Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: May 16, 2017.
Webpage updated: May 16, 2017




One of the many coach excursion businesses that were started in Plymouth after the Great War was the Embankment Motor Company.  It was founded by Mr James Henry Williams, the son of Mr John Williams, a quarryman.  He was born at Cattewater, Plymouth, in 1869.

His first job was a shipwright in the Royal Dockyard at Devonport.  This gave him a nice steady job to marry the girl next door, dress maker Miss Maude Mary Knapman, of 13 Commercial Street.  They were married at the Anglican Church of Saint Andrew on Saturday April 16th 1892.  They had four children: George Henry Williams in 1893; Lilian May Williams in 1894; Effie Williams in 1898; and a youngest son who was drowned during the Great War while serving as a wireless operator.

In 1919 James bought an old lorry, presumably Army surplus, and set up as a haulier.  Wooden seats were fitted into the lorry when it was required to carry passengers.  He was soon able to purchase a new 15-seater char-a-banc and on Friday May 7th 1920 the Western Evening Herald carried an advertisement:  The Embankment Motor Company beg to announce that their up-to-date and luxurious char-a-banc will be ready for the Whitsun holidays.  Look out for the tan car.  The name came about by virtue of the fact that he lived at number 88 Embankment Road.

The first advertised excursion was to Paignton and Torquay on Saturday May 22nd 1920 for a fare of ten shillings.  This was followed on the Whit Sunday (May 23rd) by a tour to Bude via Launceston and Tavistock for 14s 6d and on Whit Monday (May 24th) to Newquay, also for 14s 6d.  Subsequent excursions were: Tuesday May 25th 1920 to Salcombe, leaving at 2pm, price 7s; Thursday May 27th 1920 to Liskeard, Callington and Tavistock, leaving 2pm, cost 7s; and Friday May 28th 1920 to Yelverton, Dousland and Burrator, departing at 2pm and stopping for two hours, cost only 4s.  There was no excursion on Wednesday May 26th 1920 because the vehicle was booked for a private trip.

In due course the business was made into a private limited company, Embankment Motor Company (Plymouth) Ltd.  The booking office was at 3 and 4 Drake Circus.  In 1923 they started a motor bus service to Buckland Monachorum and Dousland in competition to the Devon Motor Transport Company  [5].  Mr Williams drove the bus himself and there were some 'sharp skirmishes' between the two companies before they signed an agreement to run a hourly co-ordinated service.   This agreement was honoured by the National Omnibus & Transport Company when they took over the DMT and subsequently by the Western National Omnibus Company.

A personal tragedy was to lead to a change of direction, however.  At about 10.30am on Friday November 25th 1932 the eldest son, 'Harry', Mr George Henry Williams, fell 12 feet off a ladder while trying to access the loft at their garage in West Hoe Road.  He sustained severe head injuries and died later at the Central Hospital.  He was just 39-years-old and left a widow, Constance, and two children, James and Maud.

It would appear that this may have had a bearing on the acceptance of an offer from the Western National Omnibus Company, made on April 5th 1933, to purchase the five buses and the two routes, which from Thursday April 6th 1933 became services 84 to Buckland Monachorum and 86 to Dousland.  From then on the Company concentrated on excursions.

Early in 1935 Mrs Maud Mary Williams died following an operation and just two years later Mr Williams also fell ill and underwent an operation on Thursday November 5th 1937.  Mr James Henry Williams died at his home, "Oakleigh", Tor Lane, Plymouth, on Sunday November 8th 1937.

Control of the business then transferred to one of his two daughters, who was at that time Mrs Effie Wale.  It is said that she had very little experience but did have a flair for business and at the start of the Second World War the Company took over three smaller concerns, Messrs Buckingham of Plymouth; Messrs Rodgman of Pomphlett; and Messrs Markham of Plympton.  All their vehicles were commandeered by the armed services for the duration of the Second World War and when they were returned they were in a very sorry state.

In August 1940 the following motor coach tours from outside their offices in Princess Square, Plymouth, were being advertised, despite there being a war on:

Saturday August 17th 1940-
10.30am to Quaint Fowey, Polperro and Looe, 8s 6d;
10.30am to Paignton with six hours' stay, 5s;
2.30pm to Coryton, Lewdown, Lifton, and Launceston, 6s;
2.30pm to Cheesering (Cornish Moors) and Tamar Valley, 6s 6d;
2.30pm to Quaint Polperro and Looe, 6s;
2.30pm to Goodrington Sands, 5s;
3pm to Dartmeet via Moors, 3s.

Other tours were available departing at 10.30am and 2.30pm.

In 1945 she married one of the drivers, Mr Thornton Spargo C J Congdon, known to everyone as 'Peter'.  He had worked for the Company since the beginning, except for the period of the Second World War, when he drove buses for Plymouth Corporation.

Under Mrs Congdon's management the Company went from strength to strength in the glorious period after the War, when the war-tired Plymothians wanted to travel but could not run their own cars.  In 1948 they started to replace the wartime utility vehicles with brand new luxury coaches, including the "observation" ones which created a great deal of interest everywhere they went.  On January 1st 1962 Embankment even took over the excursion and private hire side of the Plymouth Co-operative Society and soon had a fleet of 36 vehicles.

Mrs Effie Congdon, managing director, died at number 4 Elliott Terrace, The Hoe, Plymouth, on July 16th 1962 and control of the business was transferred to her husband.

Mr Thornton Spargo C J Congdon, of 18 Welbeck Avenue, died at a Plymouth nursing home on Saturday February 23rd 1974.  Although he was survived by two brothers, there were no children of the marriage to take over the running of the business and on May 8th 1974 it was taken over by Messrs Wallace Arnold Devon.  The business continued to be run as a separate entity, with vehicles carrying both names, until August 1977, when Mr and Mrs Williams' legacy disappeared forever.

For a Fleet List of the Embankment Motor Company (Plymouth) Ltd click HERE.